With The Rental, first-time feature director Dave Franco has crafted a slow-burning thriller that’s nicely tense even if it doesn’t feel completely original. It’s a movie that probably fits best into the home invasion category, but the on-screen violence is kept to a minimum. Instead, The Rental focuses heavily on building characters and their complicated relationships, so when the bad stuff starts happening, the characters’ reactions feel more natural and understandable within the context of the movie. You might feel like you’ve seen movies like this before (and you probably have), but the acting is great, the writing is solid, and the direction brings everything together in a satisfying way that makes the movie enjoyable even if you can predict what’s about to happen next.
The Rental follows two couples as they rent a house for a weekend getaway. Charlie (played by Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) work together, and they decide to rent a house on the beach in a remote location to celebrate some sort of success at their job. It’s immediately apparent that there’s some sexual/romantic tension between Charlie and Mina, but we quickly learn that Charlie is married to Michelle (Alison Brie, GLOW), and Mina is dating Charlie’s brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White). All four of them go to the rental property on a weekend-long double-date, but as you might expect, things get romantically complicated.
Things get more complicated when the man renting out the house, Taylor (Toby Huss, The Invitation & Halloween ), rubs everyone the wrong way with his creepy vibe and his unspoken, casual racism. Taylor introduces menace into the group, and his presence is felt even when he’s not on screen. From there the movie slowly adds even more layers to all of the characters and their relationships. Secrets and lies build up, and the pressure starts to turn cracks into breaks. For the first half of the movie or more, it’s all about building up a tangled web that we, as the audience, know is probably going to unravel in devastating ways. After all, we all sat down to watch a thriller, not a romantic drama.
The Rental certainly isn’t a romantic drama, but if you’re looking for a horror movie, you’re not really going to get that either. The Rental is more about building tension. Though there is a home invasion aspect to the climax of the movie, the focus is almost always on the breakdowns of the character’s relationships. The ultimate breakdown of those relationships always involves a certain amount of violence, but the worst of the violence is often kept off-screen. We might see the aftermath, or we might not. The violence almost feels like a side-effect of what the two couples have already done to themselves. They unknowingly got themselves into this situation long before the movie started with their secrets, lies, and poor decisions, and through some mysterious manipulation, they are led to make catastrophically worse decisions over the course of about a day and a half.
While The Rental is heavy on character-driven drama, there is a good amount of suspenseful mystery involved. There are numerous red herrings spread throughout the movie, but few (if any) of the dead ends ever feel cheap or pointless. They are clearly there for misdirection, and for the most part, I think they work well.
There is a certain amount of randomness and luck involved in the proceedings, but that too feels like it fits within the themes of the movie, so I didn’t mind it. Again, the characters feel real, so even when they’re making terrible choices or just blindly stumbling into situations that work as perfect ways to draw them even deeper into unwinnable situations, it all made sense. Everything works, and I think it works well.
As I was watching The Rental, I was definitely reminded of a few other, similar movies. The Strangers sprang to mind, and so did Trespassers from 2018. The Rental is similar to both of those movies, but it’s way less violent or tense than either of them. That’s not to say The Rental is bad. I enjoyed it, but I also didn’t have any expectations going into it. I think the actors do a great job of drawing the audience into their characters’ lives right away, so even though it takes a while for the thriller part of the movie to kick off, the drama is absorbing enough to keep you interested in finding out what happens next. And then, by the time the really bad stuff starts to unfold, you’re already invested in these characters and want at least one or two of them to make it out okay.
6 – Pretty Good
I would recommend The Rental to anyone who likes a nice thriller with a heavy dose of drama, but light on the violence. Also, though there are a few moments that feel like a bit of black humor, don’t expect much happiness in this movie. Things go from tense and awkward to tense and violent, and there’s not a lot of levity to break up that downward trend. Well, you do get to see Allison Brie on ecstasy. That’s pretty fun. But then stuff gets real bad for everyone. That’s about what you can expect with The Rental. Tense, bad times done in a well-made fashion.
Title: The Rental
Director, Writer: Dave Franco
Featured Cast: Sheila Vand, Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Run Time: 89 minutes
Review Format: Streaming (Amazon Prime)